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Treating Lower Back Pain Through the McKenzie Method

We often discuss our physiotherapy treatments in our blog posts but do not always go into detail about the techniques and methods which are used by our physiotherapists. So today Mark Dockery of our Navan Road clinic in Dublin highlights how lower back pain is treated through the McKenzie method.

So What is the McKenzie Method ?

The McKenzie Method is a system of exercises used to elucidate the type of spinal issue a patient has and how best to treat it. It is commonly used worldwide in the diagnosis and treatment of low back pain, neck pain and peripheral joint complaints .

The method was created by New Zealand-based Physiotherapist Robin McKenzie (who passed away in May) in the early 1960s and is still in use today. The McKenzie Method is best applied with the aid of a Physiotherapist trained in the Method, who can diagnosis your particular problem and teach you the appropriate exercises to use at home.

The McKenzie Method implements primarily self-treatment strategies, and minimises manual therapy procedures, with the McKenzie-trained therapist supporting the patient with passive procedures only if an individual self-treatment programme is not fully effective. McKenzie himself states that self-treatment is the best way to achieve a lasting improvement of any type of back pain .

The 3 Focus Points of the McKenzie Method

There are three main areas addressed by the McKenzie method for back and neck pain. They are posture, dysfunction and derangement . 

- Posture: End-range stress of normal structures.
- Dysfunction: End-range stress of shortened structures (i.e. scar tissue; fibrosis; nerve root adherence).
- Derangement: Anatomical disruption or displacement within the motion segment.

(The three mechanical syndromes – posture, dysfunction, and derangement – occur in all areas of the vertebral column, from the neck to the base of the back).

So What Might a Physiotherapist Advise?

Each distinct syndrome is addressed according to its unique nature, with mechanical procedures utilizing specific movement and positions. Examples of exercises prescribed by a Physiotherapist for a home-based programme might include:

- Lying prone (on your front). [McKenzie method treatment]
- Prone back extension (arching your back whilst lying on your front).
- Rotation mobilisation in extension (whilst lying prone).
- Standing posture exercises (importantly extension of the spinal column).
- Standing toe-touch.
- Pelvic side-shift movements (lateral tilt).

The McKenzie method encourages education and patient involvement, in managing their own treatment plans. This helps to reduce pain and restore normal function. This also may reduce the number of visits to the clinic. Overall most patients are able to treat themselves successfully when they are provided with the necessary information by their physiotherapist. Customised self treatment programmes will be provided by our physiotherapists should they deem this the correct method of treatment for you.

To read more about this common Physiotherapy technique:

McKenzie Homepage

The McKenzie Method for Back Pain Video

Robin Mckenzie profile